What Do Narcissists See When They Look in the Mirror?

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In a recent article, I discussed the importance of mirrors and reflections for our psychological development. The question: What about narcissists? Often pops up when we think about psychology and mirrors. The narcissist is often portrayed gazing at himself in the mirror after all! The word is drawn from Greek mythology that portrays the young Narcissus who falls in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water, his very own mirror.  The illustration is accurate in that rates of narcissism are higher among men than women. But is looking at oneself, being curious about oneself, or even fascinated with oneself, inherently narcissistic? Based on the research, the general answer is no.

Research tells us that the connections between narcissism, self-focus, and physical attractiveness are complex—and surprising.

First, it’s important to know that everyone thinks they are more attractive that they really are!  Many studies in psychology show that people’s inferences about their own traits and abilities are often enhancing. That is, we generally believe we’re smarter and more attractive than we really are. Some experiments even show that this enhancement extends to people recognizing their own faces as being more physically attractive than they actually are. In one experiment, participants’ faces were made more or less attractive by a morphing procedure. They were then shown a lineup of their own morphed face (as in gradations of more and less attractive images of their face) and were asked to pick the image that was actually their face. People were more likely to recognize an attractively enhanced version of their own face out of the lineup as their own actual face, and they identified an attractively enhanced version of their face more quickly in a lineup of faces too. The enhancement bias seemed to be a relatively automatic rather than a conscious, deliberative cognitive process.

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